Call Ups: The Other Side of the Ball
By Luke Laster
NBA G League players work tirelessly, night in and night out, to hopefully one day get called up to the big leagues and have a chance to earn a spot on an NBA roster. However, working your tail off and being called up from the G League to the NBA isn’t only for players. Trent Salo, now a Sports Performance Coordinator for the Detroit Pistons, proved that to be the case after getting his start with the Grand Rapids Drive.
At the time, Salo was working at Calvin College where he taught undergraduate exercise science courses while serving as the head of human performance laboratory and strength and conditioning consultant to the school’s men’s basketball team. “Last season, the Drive would occasionally practice at Calvin, so being the basketball fan that I am, I would watch practice.” While watching practices, Salo began developing relationships with some Drive staff members, as well as General Manager, Jon Phelps. “I had no intention to inquire about a job with the Drive during these conversations, only to talk shop with those working in a sport I love doing things I enjoy (strength, conditioning, rehab).”
Little did Salo know, opportunity was about to find him. Midway through the season, he was approached by the Drive to help with the team’s strength and conditioning. After excelling in that role, he was later named the Drive’s Strength and Conditioning coach for the remainder of the 2016-17 season. Phelps, excited to have Salo on board, praised his work ethic. “To speak with Trent about sports performance is to immediately sense the passion he has for what he gets to do on a daily basis. He treats everything he does with importance and shows an eagerness to roll up his sleeves and get to work.”
Salo says he spent the following months balancing his responsibilities as an instructor in the morning and a coach in the afternoon. “On game days, I led pre-game warm-ups and stretching and post-game recovery strategies, while preparing lectures for the following morning’s class. I found that my students enjoyed hearing about my work “in the trenches” the following day in class.”
Moving On Up
After last season concluded, Salo was invited to assist the Pistons with pre-draft workouts and performance testing at the NBA draft combine in Chicago. He was also given the chance to travel to Orlando with the team to help with summer-league hoops. “I didn’t take these opportunities lightly, and was determined to continue to demonstrate to the Pistons organization what I was capable of.” After doing all the technical things to the best of his ability, Salo stresses that it is the “little things” that go the furthest. “…looking professional, communicating clearly with coaches and players, being approachable, having a presence during warm-ups, wiping sweat from the floor during practice if no one else was doing it, handing out Gatorade, and rebounding for players if needed. I believe it was a combination of these “little” things, and my performance and medical skillset and background, which eventually led to the opportunity to officially become a member of the Detroit Pistons organization.”
As of July, Salo now serves as a Sports Performance Coordinator for the Detroit Pistons as they prepare for their upcoming season. He will also be overseeing player health this season for the Grand Rapids Drive as they are also preparing for the 2017-18 season.
With the Season Approaching…
As a former collegiate point guard and team captain for Calvin College, Salo says he’s always been an energy guy. He wants to bring the same enthusiasm he once brought to the court to players as he helps to enhance their in-game performance. “I plan to be a positive impact to building a culture of excellence in physical preparation which includes collaboration from all performance and medical staff, as well as players, coaches, and interns.” Salo often thinks back to the time before he was even offered a position by the Grand Rapids Drive, quoting a famous line from the great John Wooden, which can be seen as Salo’s pinned tweet (@trentsalo).
When discussing the impact working in professional sports has had on him, Salo says “I’m just a kid from a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I dedicated time and effort into developing a skillset, was in the right place at the right time, and am now working in the NBA. I hope to use my story as motivation to others; to be an example of what can happen if you dedicate yourself to something and continue to pursue your goals, no matter the circumstances.
The Drive Effect
Salo isn’t the only person to be “called up” from the Grand Rapids Drive to another professional organization. The Drive have had several individuals move on to leagues such as the NBA, NFL, MLB, and even NASCAR. Two of the most notable previous Drive employees are former head coaches Rex Walters and Otis Smith, who are now assistant coaches with the Detroit Pistons. When it comes to the individuals who have come up through the Drive system, team President Steve Jbara says “they have that extra motivation.” He also says that working in a smaller team environment allows them to “touch on all aspects of working in sports.” From referees to coaches, and even a cheerleader, the Grand Rapids Drive continually provide opportunities to those who work hard, and have the drive to be successful within the sports industry.